written by Chris Familton
The Clean have been an intermittent project for 31 years now and through all that time they have grown in stature while more prolific musicians have been consigned to the back pages of history. Somehow the influence of the Kilgour brothers and Bob Scott has seeped into the consciousness of generations of aspiring garage and indie rock bands.
Mister Pop is the latest in only a handful of albums from the band and their low key approach means guitarist David Kilgour hasn’t even seen his brother (drummer Hamish) since they recorded the record, let alone made any plans to tour in support of the release. “We don’t plan anything, its usually because we happen to be in the same town and we might give it a go. That usually sparks it or someone gets us together for a festival or something and we think we should try and write some music,” says Kilgour in a typically laid-back Kiwi manner.
“We kind of have to write new stuff or we’d go insane. We can’t just go out and play old stuff, thats always been the rule. Thats why we make records because we’ve got new stuff,” he explains.
The sound of the record is still distinctly The Clean though this time round they have delved deeper into their folk and krautrock influences. “Yeah there is that jangly krautrock thing there. We never talk about it though. I often go in with an idea of what I want the record to be like but this time I wanted it to be a jam guitar rock album and look what happened, there is no real guitar rock there at all [laughs]. We just get together and se what happens. We love krautrock, especially the older stuff from the 70s. I always felt like the VU stuff like on the album 1969 had that driving disco repetitive beat like Can, they all had that driving beat. Moe Tucker was like a great drum machine really. I think that comes through on our stuff too,” Kilgour says.
All the members of the band have their own musical projects. Hamish plays with Mad Scene in New York, Bob Scott has The Bats and David plays solo with his band The Heavy Eights. How do they determine what makes a Clean song? “90% of the time we write them together. We very rarely take finished ones in. On this album I took a few in. The three albums before this were all written on the spot and thats how we try to keep it,”says Kilgour.
”Sometimes you can listen and say that’s the Bob song or thats the David song but we do try and not sound like what we are on our own, we are aware of it. Individually we take very different views on music. Mad Scene, what Hamish does in New York is very different again.
In the early days of The Clean and the other acts on the seminal Flying Nun label there was very little ambition outside New Zealand and other than The Chills very few of the bands travelled overseas at the time. “We never thought about it. I remember when we first went to Australia after we reformed in the late 80s… and we had no idea. It was always so hard to gauge without the internet back in those days whether you could go somewhere and people would come. Going there in the late 80s and thinking ‘shit, people here really want to see us’. We sold out a few clubs in Sydney and Melbourne and we thought ‘maybe we should’ve come here back in the day’. All the Aussie acts used to come over here like Go Betweens and Paul Kelly. I never thought beyond New Zealand shores, I never dreamt we could leave the country as a rock n roll band.”
Though their aspirations were limited they were still intent on bring punk ideals to conservative New Zealand and shaking things up. “ We were on a mission. We wanted to break the doors down and do it on our own terms. It was a crusade,” Kilgour recalls.
The Laneway Festival has been looking to reel in The Clean for a few years now and Kilgour teases that that may happen one day. For now they are back in their regular lives leaving any future activity in the hands of fate and destiny. Mister Pop in the meantime will satiate the obsessive types and introduce yet another generation to the wonderful music of The Clean.
This interview first appeared on The Dwarf